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Speech and language difficulties in toddlers by Lucy Pollard

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Speech and language difficulties in toddlers. I often get calls from parents of young children (age 3 and under) who have concerns about their child’s speech and language development. Sometimes parents are concerned that it is difficult to understand what their child is saying. Sometimes they are concerned that their child doesn’t talk at all, or talks less than children of the same age.


So what is the best option with these toddlers? At ages 3 and under, there’s a huge difference in children’s language abilities. Some children take a little longer than others to learn how to talk. Lots will catch up with their peers without the need for speech and language therapy.  Some won’t catch up by themselves, and will need to be seen by a speech and language therapist to help them overcome their difficulties. With toddlers, it’s not always easy to tell which will be which! But that doesn’t mean you should do nothing.


One of the best ways parents can support their child’s language development is to put aside at least 10 minutes for special talking time every day. During this time it’s good to:

  • Minimise distractions (turn off screens, reduce background noise).

  • Get down on your child’s level.

  • Let your child decide what to play with and follow their lead.

  • Comment on their play using short, simple sentences, e.g. ‘Carla is building’; ‘building bricks’; ‘brick on’; ‘brick off’; ‘big brick’; ‘red brick’; ‘mummy is building’; ‘up, up, up’; ‘bricks fell down’.

  • Use comments rather than questions, e.g. ‘red brick’ rather than ‘what colour is this?’ This will really help your child to match the words to the object.

  • Repeat, repeat, repeat those words! Some children need a bit more practice hearing new words than others in order to learn them.

  • Don’t worry about being quiet too! Sometimes when children are slow to talk it’s natural to fill in the gaps. But by leaving those gaps empty, we give the child lots of opportunity to talk.

  • If the child makes mistakes in their talking, don’t correct them. Instead, you can model the correct version, e.g. if they say ‘tat’, you can say ‘yes, it’s a cat’.


Of course, there are lots of other times you can try these strategies out. Mealtimes, bath time, journeys in the pushchair, or trips to the supermarket can all provide lots of opportunity to follow a child’s lead and comment on what they are interested in using short, simple phrases.

If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, you might want to try out some of these strategies. Here are some other things you can do:

  • Contact a speech and language therapist for further advice. They will help you to decide whether your child needs speech and language therapy.

  • Go to your GP to discuss your concerns. They may want to consider making a referral to other services (such as Audiology) to rule out other difficulties that might affect their language learning (such as a hearing impairment).


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